Editor's note: The number beside the team's names are not their seed but their ranking in the Sports Kid Power Rankings.
(Home team listed in CAPITAL LETTERS)
#6 Baltimore Ravens (11-6) @ #2 New England Patriots (12-4)
Saturday 4:35 PM ET, NBC
I said it before the season started and I'll say it again, I think the New England Patriots are the team that's going to be hoisting the Lombardi trophy for the first time this decade at the end of the year. With that said, I'm not ready to rule the Ravens out just yet, especially considering the fact that I consider Baltimore the Patriots' biggest threat in the AFC. The Ravens match up very well with New England. Here's why. It doesn't exactly take a super trained eye to realize that Baltimore has the worst secondary in the league. You may be thinking, "Oh...ouch. Worst secondary in the league + Tom Brady= 40+ points." Wrong. Although he could effortlessly chuck up a beautiful 60 yard pass when he was 27, 37 year old Tom Brady is not 27 year old Tom Brady. Below is an illustration of Brady's completion percentage for the 2014 season for each different length of his pass attempts.
A big part of New England's completion percentage is because Tom Brady is 37 years old and on the backend of an amazing career. But the other reason is that tight end Rob Gronkowski is the only legitimate deep threat the Patriots have. "The Gronk" leads New England in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns with 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, and that's with him being on a limited snap count because of past injury for the first three games of the season. Gronkowski really truly got fully healthy again in week 5. Before that? The Patriots were 2-2. Afterwards? 10-2. The Ravens may have trouble covering the deep ball, but they certainly won't have to worry about that against this Patriots team. Barring injuries, I predict this will be a closer game than most people would expect, but I still like the Big 3 of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Bill Belichick (the best Big 3 in the league by the way ;) to get the job done against an inferior Ravens secondary.
PATRIOTS 34, Ravens 31
#8 Carolina Panthers (8-8-1) @ #1 Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Saturday 8:15 PM ET FOX
The Seahawks are 7-1 at home while the Panthers are 3-4-1 on the road. The Seahawks are #1 in fewest passing yards allowed per game, and #1 in most rushing yard per game while the Panthers are 19th in in passing yards per game and 16th in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. Basically, I don't exactly expect this to be much of a nail biter.
SEAHAWKS 41, Panthers 17
***GAME OF THE WEEK***
#3 Dallas Cowboys (13-4) @ #4 Green Bay Packers (12-4)
Sunday 1:05 PM ET FOX
This is the game I'm most looking forward to watching. It's also the hardest pick of the week. Just a few weeks ago, I liked the Packers to be the team that came out of the NFC and advanced to the Super Bowl. But now I'm not so sure. Green Bay may be 8-0 at home, but the Cowboys match their perfection with an unscathed 8-0 road record. The key for Dallas is to get out to an early lead. Why? Well, take a look at Aaron Rodgers' stats below,name the comparison between when his team is winning, and when they're trailing.
Rodgers has an inhuman 22 touchdowns and zero interceptions when winning, but just 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions when trailing. When winning, his yards per attempt is an astounding 8.92. When losing? An average 6.85. The biggest difference, however, is in his passer rating. When his team is winning it stands at an amazing 126.1 but when the Packers fall behind it drops all the way to an earthly 88.6. The problem is the Cowboys are a mediocre 26th in passing yards allowed per game, which plays right into the hands of Rodgers and the pass-happy Packers. Which means that my pick would have to be Green Bay, if Aaron Rodgers were healthy. If Aaron Rodgers were healthy. But Rodgers has not practiced all week, and although he's expected to play this week, he'll be limited by a hamstring injury on the same leg that suffered an injury that kept him out for 10 weeks last year. The Cowboys are a force to be reckoned with and not to be taken lightly, so unless Rodgers can miraculously play at (or even near) 100 percent, I like Dallas to pull off the upset on the road.
Cowboys 45, PACKERS 34
#7 Indianapolis Colts (12-5) @ #4 Denver Broncos (12-4)
4:40 PM ET CBS
You may not want to think about it, but it's true. You probably don't want it to happen, but it's happening right now. Something is definitely wrong with Peyton Manning. Take a look at this stat of Peyton Manning's:
Not to mention the fact that in December, Manning's passer rating dropped to a mediocre 76.8 and he posted a jaw-droppingly in-Manningly poor 3 touchdowns to go with an awful 6 interceptions. So it's apparent that we're definitely nearing the end of the Peyton Manning era. But, the Colts are middle of the pack (18th) in fewest rushing yards allowed per game and that is where the Broncos have been dominating recently. In fact, they've been going out of their way to establish the running game early on, almost as if Peyton Manning weren't fully healthy (;). They had 753 yards rushing in the first half of the season and 1,032 in the second. The main difference maker for Denver has been the emergence of running back C.J. Anderson. Here are his season splits:
What's interesting, though, is that he hasn't been more effective in the second half of the season than he was in the first. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry in the first half and 4.8 in the second. It's just the volume at which Denver has used him that has changed considerably. Look for a the Broncos to try and establish Anderson early on, because if there's anything I've learned through all the Colts games I've watched, it's that you can definitely run on them. Although they're primarily known as an offensive powerhouse, Denver's defense may be even better. They're 2nd in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (79.8), so that definitely doesn't help the Colts, who have the 22nd most rushing yards per game (100.8). So Indianapolis will need to rely heavily on Andrew Luck and their #1 ranked pass offense (305.9 yards per game.) Even though it's talked up more than it should be, there's no denying the Broncos have a top-five offense, meaning the Colts will have to put a lot of points up to keep up with Denver and C.J. Anderson. Since we've already established that Indianapolis' running game will likely be neutralized by Denver's defense, Andrew Luck will need to throw for at least 400 yards to keep up with the Denver offense. But the Broncos are an above-average pass defense team (9th in the league), unlike the AFC South teams Andrew Luck is used to beating up on and the Bengals team he beat last week (20th in the league, by the way.) That means that 300 yards is a more accurate projection for a Colts team that will throw the ball 40+ times. I think this game will end up being a lot like when these teams played in the regular season (the Broncos won 31-28) when Denver jumped out to an early lead, then let their guard down, letting Indianapolis make a comeback, but ultimately the Broncos snapped out of their funk and held on to win.
BRONCOS 28, Colts 20